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This material was originally presented at Accelerate 2020 by Neural Impact

Survive or thrive? IT providers are always on the lookout for a competitive edge, and it’s no different for managed services. But it can be tough to know where to start, not to mention wrap your head around the complex process.

While the mantra ‘identify, develop, execute’ sounds vague or even overwhelming, it’s nevertheless a paradigm managed services providers (MSPs) can use to drive their business forward. We’ll break the whole approach down into digestible pieces, and have a look at different strategies that can help get your business on track to achieve—nay, exceed—its goals. Is it hard work? Yes. Will you need to commit? Yes. Are the results worth it? Absolutely!

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Four steps to building an MSP growth strategy

Most of the heavy lifting actually gets done before you even get started with implementing your growth strategy. There are four crucial steps to follow: identifying your focus, understanding trends driving your segment, mapping out your customer journey and documenting your growth plan.

#1 Identify your focus

Call it a focus area, niche, or sweet spot—you need to define where exactly lies the market opportunity. This could be your specialization, the industry your clients work in, geography or any other key defining characteristics.

You’ll also need to weigh the profitability and risk of every opportunity to avoid costly mistakes. Is it viable and financially attractive? What are the forces that drive demand in your sweet spot? What about the current competition and rivals?

Above all, don’t try to spread yourself too thin. Not everyone will be interested in your offering, and that’s okay. You’ll still need to make sure, however, that there’s a high level of alignment between your offering and the needs of a particular market.

#2 Understand trends driving your segment

Trends are fickle. Some are here to stay, some will soon be forgotten, but industry experts agree we are now experiencing some of the biggest disruptions the world at large has recently seen. For MSPs and other IT providers, this means tremendous opportunities to capitalize on. They include:

  • Remote work: Beyond 2020, this one hardly warrants an explanation at all. Remote work is exploding. When it comes to modern productivity and collaboration, it’s adapt or perish—and it will stay that way even after the pandemic is over.
  • Security and compliance: On a related note, with remote work now a fact of life, cybercriminals attack tech stacks ever more frequently and ever more ferociously. Not devoting proper attention to these threats today is akin to leaving the door wide open for hackers. More and more clients have come to understand that robust cybersecurity is no longer optional. And then there’s the challenge of data privacy. Failure to comply with strict regulations can result in potentially liquidating penalties. No responsible business will want to risk that; you can carve out an opportunity for yourself right there.
  • Increasing IT complexity: Managing multiple cloud and other tech stacks is, quite simply, a tedious chore, and your customers can’t do it alone. If you simplify your clients’ lives and provide them with optimized solutions, they’ll stick with you for the long haul.

Of course, you’ll need to do more detailed research to see if some particular ‘sweet spots’ work for your MSP, or if your energy is better spent elsewhere.

#3 Map out your customer’s journey

How do your clients start and carry out their relationship with you? Understanding this will help you better serve those clients.

It’s always a good idea to start with a workshop or an assessment of some kind, which will lay the groundwork for future projects and recurring services. This will also allow you to gain insight into potential next scenarios to present to your customer once those initial projects are complete.

You can proactively map out a series of next best services that support your client’s pain points. Prioritize the evolution of services offering that best represents the arc of maturity in your particular sweet spot.

#4 Document your growth plan

Now that you have all the nitty-gritty details of your focus area, name your objectives and what you plan to do to achieve them, supported by relevant metrics and KPIs. There are essentially four strategies for growth you can employ, each with its own level of risk: penetration, services development, market development and diversification.

  1. Penetration: Entering an existing market with an existing offering. Lowest risk and easiest overall.

This consists of growing your market share by making your current offering more attractive to your target market. Simply put, reach out to more customers with a message you know resonates already!

One way to do this is to fine-tune your marketing and messaging. Be more proactive, do more outreach with awareness campaigns, target specifically your prospect base. You probably have a whole bunch of cold leads you could re-engage this way! Perhaps you could start an educational campaign or launch a referral program to increase lead generation?

No matter what you decide to do, your messaging should always be consistent and focused on the value you can be bring to your prospective clients. It should be about them as much as it is about you.

  1. Services Development: Entering an existing market with a new offering. Medium risk and difficulty.

If you feel like you’ve saturated your market with what you can bring to the table and your revenues have plateaued, it might be time to, well, bring something new to the table. This means adding new services to your portfolio or reconfiguring existing bundles. The advantage of this strategy is that you already know the needs of your current customers—make full use of that built goodwill and trust! Chances are, they’re open to hear about new services and ideas from you.

Your marketing and sales will be focused on up-selling and cross-selling here. It’s important to watch out for signals that tell you it’s the right time to suggest a new offering.

Some capability-building will be required on your end, as this approach may require new skill sets, from technical competencies to ongoing support. You’ll probably need to conduct a self-assessment to determine what’s needed.

  1. Market Development: Entering a new market with an existing offering. Higher risk, difficulty and reward.

Deciding to focus on an as-yet unexplored market segment, even if closely related to your current sweet spot, can be nerve racking. This could be geographical expansion, focusing on bigger companies, or focusing on a different type of businesses. So, how do you go about this?

No matter the flavor, you’ll need to adjust your value proposition as well as your sales and marketing assets. It’s also a good idea to offer some sort of a free advisory assessment in order to overcome any reluctance given your lack of track record in a new field.

  1. Diversification: Entering a new market with a new offering. Highest risk and difficulty.

Why is this the riskiest approach? Developing a new offering requires a considerable amount of time and energy investment, but on top of that, you need to have the discipline to sell it to a completely new market where you often lack experience and credibility. A proper (re-)allocation of financial, operational and human resources is also a factor.

In other words, diversification means big changes to your current model! Depending on the maturity level of your company, though, you may find that this is the approach that works for you. With the new developments in how businesses operate beyond 2020, end customers across various industries who were more risk-averse in the past might be open to hear you out this time.


Get more guidance for MSP growth

Looking for more expert guidance on how to put your business on the path to profitability? Sherweb offers programs and resources to turbo-charge your growth. Check out our MBA for MSPs  for instance, or get in touch with us to learn more about strategic tools we can equip you with!

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Written by The Sherweb Team Collaborators @ Sherweb